Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Top Ten List? No One Gives a Who!


Yet another Top Ten installment for our blog. This fine list encompasses my favorite literary works of that fine author Theodor Seuss Geisel. In other words, here's my Top Ten list of the best Dr. Seuss books (or Theo LeSieg -- which, of course, is "Geisel" spelled backward -- or even once Rosetta Stone). So hello Seussville, we're talking you today! And Dr. Seuss, we miss you!

Per usual, I have numerous also-rans and close calls, and in my most humble opinion (for I have many opinions and most of them don't touch on humble whatsoever), this Top Ten list is the one where the general public's answers might vary more than any I've done to this point. The first close-but-no-cigar entry is one of my children's favorite, penned under the name Theo LeSieg, Wacky Wednesday. Though I'm not definite, my first thought is that the LeSieg books were one's where Geisel wrote the story and let someone else create the art. Wacky Wednesday as a book does a lot what the similar sounding (in title) song Manic Monday, does for me as a song. "Christopher," better known as Prince, or " " (sorry I don't have the symbol on my keyboard), or even The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, wrote the tune, but The Bangles performed the art. And I liked it a lot. And I could still listen to it over and over. It just was never one of my favorites. I think everyone gets the point. How about the McGrew and the McGurk boys? Either of those guys make the list? Uuuuh, no. Neither If I Ran the Zoo nor If I Ran the Circus ran their way onto the list. One Horton made the list, but all apologies to Horton Hatches the Egg, an early childhood favorite of mine, which just missed out -- and I mean just. A couple three others just nosed out we're a trio of early reader fare: Hop on Pop, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and Fox in Socks. I really could list a ton because so many are so good. Lastly, I'll mention There's a Wocket in My Pocket, because I really thought about that one, too.

Oh, and then there was David Letterman's Top Ten Least Popular Dr. Seuss books spoof, which is sort of dated but still might be funny to some.

But this isn't a list of the least popular - it's a Top Ten list of the best of Dr. Seuss, so that being said... on with our countdown.

10) Bartholomew and the Oobleck - No, this wasn't the first time little Bartholomew Cubbins and King Derwin of Didd graced the pages of a Seuss book. The two first appeared in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, not a bad choice in its own right although falling a little short on my list. The 500 Hats was written in 1938 before WW II, while Oobleck was penned eleven years afterward, four years after the war. The image of King Derwin has been influenced by war events to some extent, and this time the headstrong king isn't happy with what the world has to offer (from the sky) so he wants something uniquely his own. The importance of owning up to one's mistakes and learning to say the two words, "I'm sorry," are the moral lesson here, one's we all could use from time to time. Oobleck brings to mind the story of King Midas as well, as those lucky or powerful enough to get a wish might need to be careful what they wish for. Indispensable lessons all around, but written in Dr. Seuss' clever way where the morals are so subtlety weaved in, you nearly miss them for the excellent story.

9) The Sneetches (and other stories) - You gotcher star-bellied Sneetches and your plain-bellied Sneetches, and obviously, we'd all like to be star-bellied, right? This time, the lesson's on prejudice, and covetousness as well. Sylvester McMonkey McBean is the swindler who teaches the lesson, and he takes every penny the Sneetches have - but in the end, the cost was just enough, because the Sneetches finally got it. Oh that we all get that lesson. This story is enhanced on the list due to two other companions along with it. The Zax, a story on the pitfalls of stubbornness, and "What Was I Scared Of?" really add to the Sneetch story, rocketing this past other pretenders right into the Top Ten.

8) Oh the Places You Will Go - This story, close if not the longest of the Seuss stories on this list, has become many a parent's graduation present to their sons and daughters. However, Oh the Places You Will Go is a perfect send-off story for anyone making a change in life, especially kids. The book touches on the dreams we have but balances all the things we may do with times things don't quite go our way... but we keep going. We persevere. And things get better all over again. But not everything. And on and on. But it's a wonderful story and easily worthy of Dr. Seuss' ten best.

7) Yertle the Turtle (and other stories) - Like The Sneetches, Yertle's another tale benefited by a couple of tag-along stories. While Gertrude McFuzz and The Big Brag don't measure up to the extras on The Sneetches, the Yertle story more than measures up and accounts for the difference as well. Again, Seuss writes this story much affected by World War II, and it serves as a warning against dictators. King Yertle wants to ascend higher and higher at the expense and pain, and literally on the backs, of all his turtle subjects. Other morals found are those against uncompromising ambition and pride, and when I read about Yertle seeing the moon and sun being higher than he and wanting to rule those as well, it reminds me of Lucifer's fall. But Seuss' genius is that even when he hits you hard over the head with a moral or two, somehow you still don't feel it. You just think, "Wow, Yertle the Turtle's a great story!" And it is.

6) And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street - Kids love imagination. Adults love hyperbole. Adding that little (or lot in the case of Mulberry) makes the story more exciting for the listener and for the teller. Of course, we shouldn't lie or even stretch the truth (although exceptions can be made I suppose {cough, cough, Rahab, cough, cough}), but at the same time, I hate it when anyone stifles imagination, whether it's their own or someone else (i.e. their children's). Mulberry Street is a tribute to the imaginative. That's probably why it rings so well with me. Probably, a lot of folks wouldn't include this little gem on their own Top Ten list, but there's no way I could keep it off -- or even leave it at the bottom. Number Six seems about right, because I don't think it's as good as...

5) The Lorax - Ah, my pal the Lorax. An environmental story. The evil ecological strip-mining entrepreneur, Once-ler, now repentant, tells of how he cut down every Truffula tree, biggering his Thneed business while smogging the place up, polluting the water, and endangering the habitat for all creatures. Unsuccesfully, the Lorax spoke for the creatures, trees, and fishies, trying to get Once-ler to back off. A serious charge is leveled here at unbridled capitalism, when it loses sight of everything but the almighty dollar. But it's one to which we should pay attention. What looks worse than strip-mined mountains? In Florida, we've about lost the Everglades. I went to San Diego not long ago, and the place was beautiful, save a layer of smog that hovers over the city. And we've found out many times what happens when our waters are polluted. While I'm a capitalist at heart and believe in the free market, there are certainly environmental limits that should be imposed. The Lorax spoke for those but he didn't have the teeth. God commissioned man with taking care of the earth. Hopefully, we can do the job where the Lorax failed. We've certainly done the other (the Once-ler). Good, thought-provoking story.

4) Horton Hears a Who! - This is the first of two Who-books that make the list, and we're already to the Top 4. Apparently, a movie is coming in 2008 on this book. We'll have to see about that. Meanwhile, what a great tale of perseverance Horton is, withstanding all kinds of derision for something he believes in. Please let that be a lesson to all of us. The tension build-up in this story is excellent, and by the end when Horton is about to be done in for his cause, we all want to shout along with the Whos to make as much noise as we can so they can be heard. Horton may well be the most persevering character in kid's literature, what with his sitting in for a bird mother in Horton Hatches the Egg and then with this one. There aren't many Dr. Seuss books more beloved than this one. But there are three.

3) The Cat in the Hat - Recently, I wrote a post that probably passed everyone by on best first lines in a book. How's this for a starter: "The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house on that cold, cold wet day." Almost everyone knows it. What a story. What a character! The Cat in the Hat is the logo for everything Seussian. We got Up, Up With the (know-it-all) Fish. We got Thing 1 and Thing 2. We got Sally and I. We got Mom coming home to the world's biggest mess. And we got the Cat. How many books can you say are just total fun to read all the way through? Well, here's one. Really, it's amazing that Dr. Seuss could better this classic. Seriously amazing. He did, though.

2) How the Grinch Stole Christmas - How can you beat the Grinch? I mean, the fella already tops another of my Top Ten lists, right here. The Whos are back in action, this time with a face - the precious Cindy Lou Who, the most darling Who of them all. And let's not forget Max. But the star of our book is the Grinch himself. While the Cat in the Hat is Dr. Seuss' books logo, "Grinch" has pervaded into the American vocabulary, having the same meaning as "Scrooge." The 1966 classic cartoon special does nothing to harm the book, whereas the more recent The Cat in the Hat movie isn't as fan-friendly. Maybe it's the Christmas theme or the repentant heart of the Grinch that moves it to Number 2, but really, I just think it's the better book. In fact, there's only one Dr. Seuss book I think is better - and isn't it crazy to think one could be? Nonetheless...

1) Green Eggs and Ham - The most beloved of all the Dr. Seuss books by children of all ages, from 0 to 119. That Sam-I-Am. There aren't enough superlatives with which to laud the book. Delightful. Timeless. Awesome. And amazingly, it's all based on a "try it you'll like it" theme. The simplicity is remarkable, but the story is fascinating, so much so that you'll find yourself quoting it at odd times in your life -- oops, sorry, maybe that's just me. However, if you took all the kids stories in the last 100 years and could count up which one's been read the most (both by more people and by the same person over and over), my bet would be on Green Eggs and Ham. It's that good. And to say it's the best Dr. Seuss book is praise enough in itself. Pick it up, read it again. And always have it in your home. It's the best.
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Now, then. All of you guys who are disappointed that McElligot's Pool and Happy Birthday To You and Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! can start writing in. I've been called out before on these lists, so you're free to do it again. If you give a "Who."

4 comments:

P&S said...

My favorites are:

10)Horton Hears a Who!
9)Oh, Say Can You Say?
8)Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!
7)Fox in Socks
6)Green Eggs and Ham
5)There's A Wocket in my Pocket
4)How the Grinch Stole Christmas
3)Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary --w/PD Eastman (I wore this one out as a kid and still have it)
2)One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
1)Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking to Alibris with Wacky Wednesday. I couldn't pick a favorite myself and my daughter isn't quite old enough (14 months) to have one either. I was lucky to learn a great deal about Mr. Geisel while working at UCSD - home of the Theodor Geisel Library. A great beacon for literacy both then and now.

All the best.

-AJ

P.S. - I wouldn't mind a few more of those links going to Alibris, but I'm biased.

A.J. Kohn
Director, Direct Marketing and Sales
Alibris

P&S said...

Thanks for the visit, A.J. We'll see if we can't promote you guys more often.

WandaV said...

I'll do a top ten in a little while, maybe, but the most read Seuss book in my house was "The Foot Book". My daughter couldn't get enough of it and I about had it memorized. :o)

Later, guys.
Wanda